By Nancy Armour |
Give Simone Biles all the medals.
The Olympic champion not only won her fifth title at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships on Sunday night, she swept all four of the event titles. Even her “worst” event, uneven bars.
“I guess I never thought it would be possible because you have to be so consistent,” said Biles, the first woman to sweep all the titles at nationals since Dominique Dawes in 1994.
Fast-forward a couple of months, and there’s a chance she could claim a medal on every event at the world championships in Doha, Qatar. That’s almost unheard of because the events require such different strengths: power and amplitude on floor exercise and vault, grace and precision on uneven bars and balance beam.
Gymnasts need a combination of all of those qualities, of course. But it’s rare for a gymnast to have them at a level high enough to be a medal contender on every event.
“I saw it once before,” Tom Forster, the coordinator for the women’s national team, said, referring to Dawes. “It was shocking then and it’s shocking now, too. It’s incredible.
“And to actually look a little bit better than she did two years ago is just remarkable,” he added. “It’s remarkable.”
Biles is so spectacular, it’s pretty much a given that everyone else is competing for second place when she’s around. In fact, her 2016 teammates would joke about competing in the “non-Simone division,” and the same holds true now. Biles’ two-day total of 119.85 was more than 6½ points ahead of Morgan Hurd – who just happens to be the reigning world champion.
The talk going into the Rio Games was not whether she’d win the all-around title — that was a given — but whether she could win gold on floor exercise, vault and balance beam, too. She came close, winning floor and vault, but took the bronze on beam.
But a medal on uneven bars was never in the cards. Oh, her bars were fine, good enough for the Americans to put her up in the unforgiving three-up, three-count format for team finals. But they weren’t good enough then to even get her into the bars final, let alone win a medal.
Now, however, they are.
While Biles took a year off after Rio to travel and enjoy the perks of being an Olympic champion, longtime coach Aimee Boorman moved to Florida. That mean Biles needed to find a new coach, and she now trains with Laurent Landi, who is as close to an uneven bars whisperer as there is.
Landi coached Madison Kocian, who won a world title on uneven bars in 2015 and the silver medal in Rio.
He’s done wonders with Biles in the short time they’ve worked together. In addition to upgrading — she added two new skills during the routine and added a full twist to her dismount — Biles’ routine now looks effortless. Before, you could almost see her mind working through every skill as she did it, and it appeared similarly labored.
Now she floats from one skill right into another. Nothing is rushed, nothing is a struggle.
Or, if it is, no one can tell.
“I think I’m getting used to doing bars, and I guess I do enjoy it definitely more than before,” Biles said.
Told that, Landi smiled.
“I don’t think she likes bars more, she just enjoys it a bit more because she knows she can do it a little bit better,” he said. “And she can be competitive a little bit more but I don’t think she likes it more.”
Biles will have competition from the Russians, Chinese and Nina Derwael of Belgium, who just won the bars title at the European championships. Maybe even her own teammate, Riley McCusker, who scored higher than Biles on Sunday night but couldn’t beat her two-day total.
But Biles will most definitely be in the mix for a medal on uneven bars. And everywhere else.
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.